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RESPONSE TO TERROR | COALITION

Germany Orders Troops to Mobilize

Military: Contribution will include as many as 3,900 fighters and an array of hardware. Lawmakers are expected to give their approval.

November 07, 2001|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERLIN — German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Tuesday backed up his promise of "unlimited solidarity" with the U.S. war on terrorism by ordering the mobilization of as many as 3,900 German troops and a wide array of military hardware to augment the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.

The German contribution, which will focus on special forces and support such as anti-biological-warfare units to guard against attacks with toxic agents, is expected to provoke a contentious public debate over involvement in combat.

Final approval of the German deployment rests with the Bundestag, the lower house of Parliament, but Schroeder has been promised support from most political parties with the exception of the small faction of former Communists. The Bundestag reconvenes Thursday, and broad parliamentary endorsement is expected eventually. Unanimous backing from the Cabinet is expected today.

Schroeder has pledged since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to provide any requested assistance in the U.S.-led campaign to defeat Osama bin Laden and the Taliban forces that have given him shelter in Afghanistan.

The solidarity had been theoretical until Schroeder announced at a news conference Tuesday that Washington had requested the special forces units as well as Fuchs armored vehicles, germ-warfare defense, and medical teams, transport aircraft and a naval detachment.

"The federal government plans to satisfy the request from the United States," Schroeder said, adding that he has every reason to expect unwavering parliamentary endorsement. "The government is confident this package will effectively bolster the fight against terrorism and fulfill our alliance commitments."

As a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Germany voted with the alliance's 18 other states to invoke a NATO policy that defines an attack on one member as an attack on all, obliging each state to provide any requested military assistance.

But German citizens, deeply indoctrinated in the virtues of pacifism during the Allied occupation after World War II, are far less keen to play a role in combat. Although most express moral solidarity with the United States for the loss of life and profound insecurities caused by the events of Sept. 11, many view the assault on Afghanistan's Taliban regime as an excessive response that is endangering civilians and likely to worsen the West's relations with the Islamic world.

Schroeder appeared eager to put public fears of direct participation in the attacks to rest when he noted that Washington hadn't requested "a contribution to the airstrikes or ground troops."

The special forces expected to be deployed are trained in hostage rescue and the use of special weapons and tactics for hazardous but short-term "hit and run" missions. The KSK troops promised for the effort have training similar to U.S. Green Berets or Britain's SAS.

In keeping with his effort to show that Germany is now willing to shoulder its full load as a NATO member, Schroeder called his mobilization order "a historic decision." German troops have been involved in peacekeeping in the Balkans since the mid-1990s and took part in airstrikes on Yugoslavia during NATO's 1999 campaign to liberate Kosovo province, but the Afghanistan deployment goes deeper into a distant conflict than Germans have seen since the Nazi era.

Schroeder said the United States had specifically requested help in five forms: Fuchs armored vehicles capable of detecting biological contamination and 800 soldiers to operate them; up to 250 medical evacuation personnel; 100 special forces troops for targeted ground actions; air transport planes and 500 troops to support them; and naval vessels with 1,800 sailors.

Germany will join Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Turkey in providing direct military assistance.

Schroeder declined to say when the German forces will be deployed, but other government officials made it clear that the movement was at least a few weeks away.

Nor is the Bundestag debate on endorsement likely to be imminent. Some factions, including the Greens, who share power with Schroeder's Social Democrats, have asked to see the exact text of the deployment order before giving their approval. The vote is highly contentious among Greens, who hold pacifism as a fundamental value.

The party's military affairs chairwoman, Angelika Beer, said the Greens were being confronted with "their most difficult decision ever" and expressed fear that it could shake their party to its foundations.

The Greens have suffered repeated electoral losses in state votes over the last two years, making their continuation in the coalition after next September's federal elections dubious. Some speculate that the German deployment decision could fatally split the party, forcing its resignation from the government and pressuring Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer--the party's most prominent and popular figure--to defect to the Social Democrats.

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